Fancy dipping your toe into growing your own food? Allotments are getting smaller to cater for demand. The study follows a recent, controversial, suggestion from TV gardener Charlie Dimmock that allotments could be divided to increase plot numbers, which upset traditionalists. Charlie said plot sizes should be cut in quarter to end allotment waiting lists, which have reached 150,000.
The ex-Groundforce presenter said: “A lot of plots are way too big for the average couple and if you halved them and halved them again, that would be more practical for many people.
“I’m not suggesting throwing people off existing plots,” she explained, “but if a plot comes up, split it into a combination of allotment sizes for those who are going to be there either every day, three times a week, or one day over the weekend. People with big plots are ending up covering half in matting to suppress weeds.”
But allotment bodies said this would mean growers could not produce enough food to feed a family.
A new survey from the local councils advisory organisation, Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) suggests that Dimmock is on trend, because nearly nine out of 10 local authorities have already considered reducing future allotment sizes to create more plots.
While fewer councils overall plan to create more allotments, a higher proportion are demanding developers provide allotments when they build new housing. Of those that do have plans to create more plots, half will make builders or developers provide them – almost 10 per cent more than the last survey in 2013.
This means more budding gardeners will have space to grow fruit and veg after years of lengthy waiting lists.
The report’s authors welcomed this trend, saying it demonstrates that “councils are increasingly discerning about what contributions they can secure, for local communities, on new developments”.
Charlie’s former Groundforce colleague Alan Titchmarsh added: “It cannot be beyond the wit of local councils to provide half and quarter-sized plots as well as full-sized ones, according to demand. That way, waiting lists could be reduced and more people introduced to the delights (and challenges) of growing their own food.”
Allotment Planner author Matthew Appleby said: “Eviction notices have trebled in some areas because over-zealous allotment committees, who are worried about waiting lists, have taken over running sites from cash-strapped councils. The influx of new gardeners taking on plots and thinking that growing your own will be easy even across a 250 sqm space, has led to neglected plots and people giving up. Smaller plots would go along way to solving the waiting list and the neglected plots problem. Most people don’t grow primarily to feed the family – they do it for enjoyment, so massive plots are an anachronism in many cases.”
More council-provided plots are also on the cards, with 87 per cent of respondents saying the local council plans to supply more allotments directly, up from 65 per cent in 2013.
Additionally, plots could also get more expensive with 41 per cent of respondents plan to increase the price of a plot within two years. Prices for plots vary widely nationwide, with the cheapest plots in south Wales just £7 a year to the most expensive in Greenwich, London at £400 a year.
The State of the Allotments Market survey went out to local authorities and green space managers in July, asking about allotment size, shape, cost, allocation, management and future plans.
The amount of people on waiting lists remains high. One third of councils have a waiting list of 100-400 people, down from 43 per cent in 2013.